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Review

Yono and the Celestial Elephants (Switch eShop) Review

Gentlemen, I am not leaving without my elephant.
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Sometimes, when you work passionately on a project you deeply care about, it shows through in the end result. If you love what you’re making, others will too, right? When I first saw the trailer for Yono and the Celestial Elephants, I knew I wanted to play and review it. It was so adorable! Who wouldn’t want to play a Zelda-like game with a cute baby elephant as the lead? So when the review copy came in last week, I was excited. And after playing through the game in its entirety, I can firmly say that while the game is fun, it was saddening to know that so much passion had gone into something so unpolished.

Before I get too deep into the issues I had with the game, let’s talk about the premise. Yono and the Celestial Elephants takes place in a fantasy world in which elephants are extremely rare, with only one being born from the stars every thousand years. Their rarity has them revered as gods, to the point where there’s an entire religion focused around the elephants, with monks and temples and ancient holy texts. When an elephant is born, their job is to bring peace to the world, which is often at turmoil, as worlds with humans usually are. If you’re thinking this sounds a teensy bit similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender series or Zelda, you’re not wrong. It’s clear the creator of the game is a fan of both, as evidenced by little references to them sprinkled throughout the game.

As the titular elephant Yono, you are born into the world and met by a young girl named Sundara, who, without wanting to get into spoiler territory, has more to her than meets the eye. She’ll guide you through the tutorial, teaching you the basics of being an elephant. You’ll learn to headbutt, how to push objects, how to pick things up with your trunk, how to talk to people, and how to suck water (and other things, like peanuts and chillis) up into your trunk and spit them out. They’re all simple mechanics, and you’ll use them for every challenge and puzzle in the game, but sometimes simple mechanics make the best games.

Once you’ve completed the tutorial, you’ll traverse a small dungeon before finding yourself in Windhill, the first town in the game, where you’ll start to get a grasp of how progression in this game works, though it’s not particularly complex. The basic gist of it is that you’ll complete a dungeon, arrive at a new town, help the townsfolk with their problems, then move on to the next dungeon. It’s a pretty standard fantasy progression, and it gets the job done, but it would have been nice to see something more. Every now and then, the progression is switched up a little bit, but it’s still not enough to stop the story from becoming a bit predictable.

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On the topic of the story, I honestly thought it was kind of half-baked. The main conflict in the world of Yono is growing dissent from minority races, a potentially thorny topic to say the least. These races ‚ÄĒ Bonewights, a race of skeletal people risen from the dead, and Mekani, a race of robots ‚ÄĒ have been living under the rule of a human queen for hundreds of years, and they want out. They want independence. They want freedom from a queen that sees them as lesser creatures. It’s got excellent potential as a story, but a story like this has to be told well… and unfortunately, Yono does not tell it well. When you first meet the racist queen of the humans, what she says is shocking and damning. She makes her views clear ‚ÄĒ both the Mekani and Bonewights are inherently dangerous and bring nothing good to the world. She ignores the fact that Mekani are brilliant traders, or that Bonewights are exceptional artists, and runs with an ignorant narrative of their danger to society, going so far to accuse them of kidnapping a member of the royal family. It is harrowingly topical in the current political climate, and stories like this are important for providing perspective in a world where perspective is often muddied.

So you, as Yono, travel to the home of the Bonewights and discover that something is causing dangerous creatures to be resurrected and attack people, which people mistake for Bonewights, giving them a dangerous and misguided reputation. After a dungeon and a boss fight, you cleanse the corrupted source of power responsible for raising the dead. Then you move on to the city of the Mekani, where they’re in the midst of a referendum on whether or not to go to war with the humans over their independence. But one of the Mekani doesn’t trust the general public to make the “right” choice ‚ÄĒ that is, his opinion, which is that they should go to war ‚ÄĒ so Yono has to travel through a dungeon and fight a boss (of course), and stop any tampering from occurring. To Yono, if the people want to fight for their freedom, they should be able to, but only if they’re all on board.

Then you get arrested by the queen’s guard for “conspiring” against her with the Mekani to undermine her authority. You’re thrown into a dusty dungeon aside other wrongly imprisoned citizens, and sentenced to death by execution. After breaking out of your cell, and traversing through a dungeon, you come face to face with the queen and, yet again, fight a boss ‚ÄĒ the queen’s executioner. And after defeating him, you confront the queen about her awful ways. Sounds fine so far, right? It would be, if there were any consequences to the queen’s poor treatment of minority races. Instead, she basically says “I understand now that I was wrong, goodbye” and everything is suddenly okay. It feels like there should have been more, as if the story was cut short and wrapped up with a nice little bow. I hate to say it, but it feels lazy, or at the very least, not particularly well-thought-out. As I said, stories like this are important, and they have to be told well. And it’s not easy, I get that. Films like Disney’s Zootopia do a fine job, but they’ve got dozens of writers and years of scripting to get it right. I didn’t expect Yono to tell its story perfectly, but it was disappointing to see a conclusion so unsatisfying.

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It pains me to say that storytelling isn’t the only place that Yono falls short. During my time with the game (about 8 hours in total), I experienced a number of bugs. None of these are particularly game-breaking, but they are frequent enough to be annoying. There are small things like headbutts not registering if you stand too close to an object or enemy, the targeting button being largely useless in most situations, and dashing up stairs causing Yono to fly backwards instead of forwards. There are also a few bigger things, like a strange bug in which, after losing all of my health and respawning, I came back to life with no hit points, effectively rendering me invincible until I picked up a health recovery item. It’s also entirely possible to lock yourself out of side quests by progressing too far, often without any warning. I’ve spoken to the developer about these issues, and they are aware of them at least. Whether or not they’ll get fixed, on the other hand, is a matter of waiting and hoping that they do. There’s also no Pro Controller support yet, but it is planned in a future update.

But for all the things the game gets wrong, it does a lot of things right, too. The music in-game is absolutely stellar, and ties in with the cute aesthetics perfectly. There were times where I’d just park my elephant in the middle of a field and just listen to the soundtrack for a while. There are a number of costumes to collect, with each town having new and different options, that are all generally adorable and fun. There’s even a Link costume! And most importantly for a game like this, the dungeon puzzles are a brilliant challenge and very reminiscent of 2D Zelda games like Link to the Past. Even the boss fights, while a bit on the easy side, are incredibly enjoyable and utilise the mechanics well.


I wanted to like Yono so much. But despite its adorable visuals, superb soundtrack and well-executed puzzles, Yono and the Celestial Elephants suffers from a lack of polish throughout. It’s an enjoyable enough experience, but it’s disappointing to see a concept with so much potential fail to deliver. There’s fun to be had, but tempering your expectations is a must to get the most out of the experience.

Rating: 3/5

Review copy provided by publisher.

The Good

Adorable aesthetics
Incredible soundtrack
Dungeon puzzles are challenging and enjoyable

The Bad

Story fails to deliver
Frequent bugs
A bit on the short side

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Final Thoughts

I wanted to like Yono so much. But despite its adorable visuals, superb soundtrack and well-executed puzzles, Yono and the Celestial Elephants suffers from a lack of polish throughout. It's an enjoyable enough experience, but it's disappointing to see a concept with so much potential fail to deliver. There's fun to be had, but tempering your expectations is a must to get the most out of the experience.

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About The Author
Oliver Brandt
Deputy Editor, sometimes-reviewer, and Oxford comma advocate. If something's published on Vooks, there's a good chance I looked over it first. I spend way too much on games and use way too many em dashes.
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